Flautist Kate Steinbeck and cellist Elizabeth Austin formed Keowee Chamber Music in 2001, and in 2002 held a Father’s Day concert at the Fred W. Symmes Chapel at YMCA Camp Greenville, more commonly referred to as "Pretty Place" because of the beauty of the site. Situated on an escarpment that forms the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, the roofed open-air structure has a sloping floor from which the audience can watch a performance against a backdrop of natural beauty that rivals anything in Southern Appalachia.
Ms. Austin is now located in Albuquerque, and Ms. Steinbeck is Artistic Director of Pan Harmonia, the successor organization to Keowee Chamber Music. This year’s Father’s Day concert at Pretty Place was the tenth year at this striking location, and brought the two Keowee founders together once again, along with John Bryant on trumpet, Jennifer Merrell on French horn and Eric Dircksen on bassoon. The concert was named “A Mixed Bag of Winds” and included several works transcribed for this ensemble, and one world premiere of a piece composed for the event.
A bonus flute/cello suite was already underway when I arrived late. There’s always a first time for everything, including being tardy for a reviewing assignment. Sixteenth century madrigals by John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Morley were performed next by the four wind players, with cello continuo added where needed. I was impressed at the playing of Mr. Bryant in the ensemble. Now freelancing in Atlanta, this trumpet player demonstrated an ability to mesh without permitting the brightness of the trumpet to overpower the woodwinds.
Austin and Merrell put down their instruments to present Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music,” which is minimalist music at its peak: rhythmic patterns from a duet of musicians using only their hands. I wondered if Reich had an encore for the Zen ensemble “one hand clapping.” Although I am not a fan of minimalism, I appreciated the precision displayed by the performers. After a false start, they began again and gave a convincing performance that did justice to Reich’s music.
Steinbeck plays a modern wooden flute manufactured by her husband, Chris Abell of the Abell Flute Company. Steinbeck’s father-in-law Marshall Abell, who died June 7, was best known in this region for his twenty-year service as headmaster of the private school that he transformed into Carolina Day School. In memory of him, Steinbeck added a Scottish reel “Roslyn Castle” to the program. Thunder in the distance actually added to the effect of a haunting flute melody and the misty Blue Ridge Mountains. Ms. Steinbeck and Mr. Dircksen then performed Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Bachianas Brasilieras No. 6” for flute and bassoon. Dircksen demonstrated excellent control and exquisite tone. I hope we hear him again in these parts.
The second half of the concert was recent music. Stan Friedman’s 1975 work “Solus” for solo trumpet was the only disappointment of the day. Bryant was unconvincing in a composition that seems to be a spoof of trumpet virtuosi. Perhaps he took it too seriously. Next, Bryant and Merrell performed (on trumpet and French horn) a selection from Lowell Shaw’s “Bipperies” (originally for two French horns). Here, Bryant again avoided brassiness in order to blend with the mellow sound of the horn.
Bryan Burkett, a composer now living in Black Mountain, wrote “Variations on a Lullaby” specifically for this Pan Harmonia ensemble, and we were hearing the world premiere. “Marie’s Lullaby” from Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is the basis of the work. There was a section that seemed thin and “reedy” but most of the composition provides good contrapuntal use of the sonorities of trumpet, horn, bassoon, cello and flute. Mr. Burkett was in attendance and accepted the audience’s sincere applause. The ensemble then conferred; it turned out that two other members of the group had noticed that a bee was in the cupped hand of Mr. Dircksen during the performance. Fortunately, the bee showed proper concert etiquette and did not misbehave.
As an encore, the ensemble played a transcription of Christopher Gunning’s “The Belgian Detective,” the theme associated with the British ITV Series Poirot. It provided a delightful conclusion to a well-attended concert.